I mentioned earlier that a group of Austin philanthropists is working on a collaboration around building the capacity of local arts education organizations. I now have more information on the project, and as an example of philanthropic collaboration and capacity building it’s pretty interesting. The project, called Mind Pop, is a $225,000+ collaboration among Still Water Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Applied Materials, Tapestry Foundation, the Education Foundation of America and additional funders who they are still working to secure. The leaders of Mind POP hope to improve the unequal access Austin students have to high quality arts education and the lack of capacity and collaboration among arts education organizations in town.
Their goals for the project are to:
- Establish a baseline for measuring improvements in access and quality
- Pinpoint inequities in the community to design targeted solutions
- Strengthen relationships between key community partners
- Fund four pilot projects designed by the key partners to address systemic change
- Improve the capacities of 25-40 arts education orgs and provide seed funding to strengthen their programs
- Act collaboratively, laying a foundation for ongoing coordination and potential national funding going forward
The project has three phases over the next year. Phase One is an analysis to understand gaps in resources in the current arts education landscape. Phase Two is a series of professional development sessions for arts education organization leaders to address the four most critical barriers to capacity that they see. These two phases will happen concurrently. Then, Phase Three will be the distribution of $150,000 in grants to the arts organizations that participated in the capacity building sessions. This money is comprised of four systemic change grants at $25,000 each and 40 mini-grants at $1,000-2,500 for organizational change projects.
The details, partnerships and funders are still being worked out, so this is all subject to change, but I imagine the basic overall design of the project will stay the same.
Although the scope and dollar amount of the collaboration and capacity building project is relatively small, it is impressive for two reasons. First of all, I like to see philanthropists pooling resources for greater leverage. Particularly in Austin, where our foundation assets are small compared to the foundation assets of other cities, collaboration is crucial to achieve broader and deeper social impact. So the fact that these family and corporate foundations are creating a pooled fund of money means a greater amount of capital working for the same goal, which hopefully means a greater chance that the goals are realized. And secondly, this project is interesting because it seeks to understand AND remedy problems of capacity within the nonprofit sector. I have talked at length about the need for greater capital to fund organization building in the sector. Philanthropists are often hesitant to see their money go anywhere other than direct program services. But when philanthropists like those in Mind POP recognize how important capacity and organization building is to addressing the root cause of social problems (like unequal access to arts education) they are moving the sector forward. They are recognizing and demonstrating to their colleagues that capacity can and should be supported.
It will be interesting to see how this project progresses and the outcomes it achieves. I’ll keep you posted.